NEW YORK—The case of a school speech pathologist who was denied a new contract over her refusal to sign a commitment barring her from boycotting Israel demonstrates how Texas’ anti-boycott legislation stifles free expression and violates the Constitution, PEN America said today.

As reported in the Intercept, Bahia Amawi, a contract elementary school speech pathologist in Texas was told she may no longer work with the school district after refusing to sign an oath that she “does not” and “will not” engage in a boycott of Israel. The oath also requires she not “otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm” on Israel. She sued the school district this week alleging that the Texas law regulating her free expression is a violation of her First Amendment rights. At least 26 states around the country have similar anti-boycott legislation on the books which either prohibit political or economic protest of the foreign nation and/or impose financial costs on those who exercise that constitutional right. Thirteen more states are considering such proposals.

Also this week, the Arkansas Times Limited Partnership filed a lawsuit in federal court challenging the state’s anti-boycott legislation on the basis of its violation of the First Amendment. Like Texas, Arkansas law similarly mandates that government contractors sign an oath to not boycott Israel. The lawsuit arose after the Arkansas Times was told it may no longer report on campus news without first agreeing to the state law pledge not to boycott Israel.

“Courts have ruled that participation in political and economic boycotts can constitute protected speech under the First Amendment,” said Nora Benavidez, Director of U.S. Free Expression Programs at PEN America. “Regardless of the merits of such boycotts, a system that penalizes people for expression of political beliefs is at odds with the protections afforded in the Constitution. The cases in Texas and Arkansas help illustrate why the trend of state governments passing anti-boycott laws poses such a threat.”

PEN America has previously reported on proposals to stifle free expression, arguing that political boycotts are constitutionally protected tools for social reform which have been used throughout this country’s history.

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. pen.org

CONTACT: Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Manager: agasparian@pen.org